MADRID, April 16 – Football fans are in for a treat as bitter rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid gear up to face each other four times in 18 crucial days, beginning with Saturday's league 'El Clasico' at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Barcelona and Real will lock horns in the league, Kings Cup final and then over two legs in the Champions League semi-final in a crucial period that could make or break their respective seasons.
Champions Barcelona hold a commanding eight point lead over Real in the league with seven games left and victory over their foes would virtually seal the league title, while a draw would still leave Madrid with a mountain to climb.
Real coach Jose Mourinho watched Sporting Gijon win 1-0 at the Bernabeu in their last home league outing to end his nine year 150 match unbeaten home league record and the Portuguese hopes to fare better than in his first Clasico when Barcelona thrashed his side 5-0 at Camp Nou.
It was the heaviest defeat of Mourinho’s glittering career and both he and his wounded players will be out for revenge for that humiliation.
It is a clash of the league’s leading scorers with Barcelona’s Lionel Messi on 29 league goals for the season with Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo one behind on 28.
While Messi has been a regular scorer in this fixture, Ronaldo is looking to net in his first Clasico and forget the Camp Nou mauling.
"It is completely different to the first game (when Real lost 5-0)," said Ronaldo. "We have to think it is possible (to win) because they (Barcelona) are not from another planet.
"They are one of the best footballing sides but we are in good shape and have to be confident that the best team will win."
Barcelona are unbeaten on the road with 13 wins and two draws and their coach Pep Guardiola has won a perfect five successive Clasicos and the balance of goals during these fixtures is 16 for Barca and just two for Real.
"We won’t make the mistake of going to the Bernabeu thinking nothing is lost if we lose," said Guardiola. "We have the opportunity to take a decisive step towards the league title.
"It is the chance to compete against the most powerful team in every sense, the strongest, the ones in the best form, the ones with an unstoppable squad."
Real’s last win over their rivals was back in May 2008 when they won 4-1 at the Bernabeu as Barcelona performed an agonising guard of honour to salute Madrid as champions.
Real have been boosted by the return of Karim Benzema, Kaka and Gonzalo Higuain from injury to give Mourinho a welcome selection headache.
Barcelona have defensive concerns with captain Carles Puyol injured and Eric Abidal recuperating from surgery on a liver tumour, so Guardiola must decide whether to use midfielder Sergio Busquets or the rusty Gaby Milito at centre-back.
Elsewhere Valencia travel to bottom side Almeria on Saturday looking to cement third place after their morale-boosting 5-0 win over rivals Villarreal last time out.
Valencia are now six points ahead of fourth-placed Villarreal and their coach Unai Emery must put sentiment aside against old club Almeria who are seven points from safety.
Villarreal hope to bounce back from their Valencia mauling with a home victory over relegation-threatened Real Zaragoza on Monday.
In other matches, free falling Espanyol host European rivals Atletico Madrid on Sunday at the Cornella-El Prat Stadium.
Espanyol have won two out of their last 11 league games to fall to eighth, while Atletico are one point ahead in seventh place.
"The pressure is on Atletico because if they don’t get into Europe it would be a failure," said Espanyol striker Luis Garcia.
Fifth-placed Sevilla, a point above Atletico, travel to struggling Getafe on Saturday hoping to continue their European push.
Getafe, sixth last season, harboured hopes of a European place a matter of months ago, but have failed to win any of their last nine league matches and languish in 16th four points above the relegation zone.
Getafe v Sevilla (1600 GMT), Malaga v Real Mallorca (1600 GMT), Almeria v Valencia (1800 GMT), Real Madrid v Barcelona (2000 GMT)
Sunday – all 1500 GMT unless stated
Levante v Hercules, Deportivo La Coruna v Racing Santander, Real Sociedad v Sporting Gijon, Osasuna v Athletic Bilbao (1700 GMT), Espanyol v Atletico Madrid (1900 GMT)
Villarreal v Real Zaragoza (1900 GMT)